As the world continues to recognize the influence of the arts on everyday life, The York Theatre Company highlights the iconic movie musical songwriter Irving Berlin in their brand new production: “Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood.”
Inspired by a letter he received from Berlin as a young man, producing artistic director Jim Morgan said he feels like he’s “in heaven” at the show’s temporary location, St. Jean’s Theater.
With an onstage orchestra and a small cast of six, it was quite an ethereal experience to see these performers’ talents accentuated by Berlin’s music and choreography by Randy Skinner, a four-time Tony nominee.
“Cheek to Cheek,” a jukebox show, was heavily focused on the music and dancing, while tastefully taking moments to tell the story and share the milestones of Berlin’s career — which spanned over 60 years during the course of the 20th century.
The opening number, “Let Yourself Go,” is a high energy song and dance featuring five of the six cast members.
Wearing tap shoes, the men and women showed off their fancy footwork, with taps so crisp they could be heard from the back of the house, along with their clarity and musicality.
This was especially true for Melanie Moore, “So You Think You Can Dance?” winner and Broadway performer, who I simply could not stop watching.
As its title suggests, the number was all about letting loose and feeling the music — which made for the perfect opener and tone setter for the show.
The cast of “Cheek to Cheek” went on to perform more numbers from Berlin’s movie musicals, ranging from ones extremely popular to severely underappreciated.
My favorites were probably the musical numbers from “Top Hat,” originally starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 1935.
Each song and dance routine from this movie musical was especially quirky and lively, including the endearing couple’s dances in the title track performed by Kaitlyn Davidson and Jeremy Benton, and “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?”
“The Piccolino,” another couple’s dance which actually became a dance craze in the U.S. during its era, was the most upbeat of them all and a pleasure to watch.
Another number I particularly enjoyed was “Back to Back,” from the 1939 movie musical, “Second Fiddle.”
The lyrics to this song about eyeing other dancers while dancing with your partner because you’re facing back to back cracked me up.
I’ll say that this show was probably not intended to be too comedic, but there were moments slipped in here and there that were genuinely funny without trying too hard.
Toward the end of the show, the cast got the audience to feel the holiday spirit by performing the songs from “White Christmas” released in 1954, starring Christmas icon Bing Crosby.
“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” from that movie was probably my favorite number of the whole night.
It was an incredibly advanced routine, and probably the most technical one in the show.
From intricate partnerwork to perfectly executed triple pirouettes, the audience could not stop cheering when the dancers hit the final poses.
Even if you aren’t particularly fond of the type of music featured in the show, I would still recommend you to attend this show solely for the dancing.
My one critique for the entire show is that the costumes could easily be tweaked to better represent the changes in styles over the decades of Berlin’s career.
However, no matter what the cast wore, nothing could take away from their talent and the whole point of the show: highlighting a genius whose songs were written solely to be sung and danced.
Surely, “Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood” fits the bill.